"If the Supreme Court says that you have the right to consensual sex within your home," Sen. Rick Santorum told an AP reporter, "then you have the right to bigamy, you have the right to polygamy, you have the right to incest, you have the right to adultery. You have the right to anything."
Santorum was talking about a Supreme Court case questioning the constitutionality of Texas' so-called sodomy laws, which make consensual sex between same-sex adults a crime.
Elizabeth Birch, executive director of the Human Rights Campaign -a leading gay rights organization, led a chorus of liberal critics saying in response: "When Trent Lott made similar comments, he lost his position as majority leader, and it is time for the Republican Party to consider similar steps with Senator Santorum."
First, let's cover a little history. The Civil War was America's bloodiest conflict. It cost nearly 1,100,000 casualties, claimed 620,000 lives in perhaps more than 10,000 armed clashes. The war divided the nation for generations after it ended.
The Civil Rights movement of the 1960s didn't claim nearly as many lives, but it, too, transformed American life, rearranging institutions, public and private, and rewriting the language of the nation. And, you know what? None of it had anything to do with gay people.
Brother didn't fight brother over gay marriage or homosexuals in the military. Men didn't brave police dogs and fire hoses to overturn sodomy laws and the National Guard was never called in to restore order after gays were allowed through the schoolhouse door. Gays weren't kidnapped in Africa and brought to America against their will to toil in our fields.
It's important to keep all this in mind as the chorus of comparisons between Santorum and Lott gets louder, demanding that Santorum step down from his leadership position as Lott was forced to do.
When Trent Lott defended Jim Crow, he was defending something that had been rejected by two generations of Americans. Countless elections, debates, movies, books, marches and court decisions stand as testimony to the fact that America is resolved to put Jim Crow behind us. Lott dug up a skeleton that everyone wanted to remain buried, and he was punished for it.
Santorum, meanwhile, was giving an opinion about an existing law that is currently being debated in the Supreme Court. In short, homosexuality and race are just different things. They describe different things. They have different roles in our history and culture.